08 May 2009

Perhaps surprisingly, the Telegraph has done the public a great service

I'm finding the reports from the Telegraph on MP's expenses very interesting. They got hold of the details of all recent expenses claims via a leak. This page gives details of the . Some of the claims do look pretty extraordinary. £22,500 to treat dry rot at a seaside second home? A £320,000 profit in 27 months on a house bought with taxpayers' money?

I must single out for a special mention Labour MP Barry Gardiner, because (based on the testimony of people I know who have worked with him) he is such a complete dork. Gardener made a profit of £200,000 on a Westminster flat renovated using payments which he then claimed as expenses - despite the fact his main home is only 8 miles from parliament. 

It seems to me that we are in for a wave of anti-sleaze sentiment which will make the previous high-point of anti-sleaze, at the 1997 election, look positively tame. That election delivered Martin Bell to Westminster on an anti-corruption ticket. It is possible that next year's election could see dozens of anti-sleaze MPs elected. Next year could be the year when millions of citizens rise up and say they've had enough of MPs on the take.

For the most part, the MPs' attempts to defend themselves miss the point completely. "It was all within the rules", they say. Undoubtedly. But who made those rules? Parliament. The point is that the rules are so lax as to allow ludicrous expense claims that no-one in a job elsewhere (outside senior executives in the banking sector, perhaps) would be entitled to.  Gordon Brown says that the system requires reform - which it does - but why hasn't anything been done in the last 11 years then? Aren't he and previous Prime Ministers guilty of negligence for allowing these crazy expense rules to exist for so long? 

Certainly, MPs living too far away for a reasonable commute need accommodation in London. But why should they be able to make hundreds of thousands of pounds on accommodation which the taxpayer is paying for? If the taxpayer pays, the taxpayer should get the returns. Better still, MPs' offices could include proper overnight accommodation facilities - bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens etc. The Houses of Parliament should really be like a big hotel. 

I think the Telegraph has done us a great service by publishing all this stuff. I hope they make the complete list of expenses claims available for download and perusal at some point in the near future as it would be good to have a database where everyone could see exactly what their MP has been claiming. Let's have all this out in the open. 

2 comments:

Red Two said...

Hal

isn't the issue here that the deliberately lax claims rules were devised to enable MPs to effectively increase their pay without an eye-catching salary increase? With the consequence that those playing the system (and there's no doubt that some of them are playing the system) inevitably look far more crooked than they would do were they "just" getting a whopping big salary.

There's no doubt that the issue is embarrassing but frankly I'm bored to the back teeth with it. Journalists (and every other bugger) taking the moral high ground when they'd be doing the same and worse in the same situation? Mind-numbingly tedious.

I haven't got a problem with MPs receiving an attractive package. Heaven knows what sort of fuckwit would be doing the job if it didn't pay well. You increasingly have to wonder who'd WANT to be an MP, and that ain't good.

giroscoper said...

I think £64,000 (which is their current salary, or thereabouts) already is an attractive package. It's way above average earnings. The evidence from the recent economic collapse is that it was largely the people "earning" the most money who were the most clueless wankers. I would argue the exact opposite to you - that the higher the salary is, the more likely is a "fuckwit" (as you gamely put it) to be doing the job. High salaries attract crooks, tricksters and Elliot Morley.

It's not a particularly hard job compared with most people in the £60,000 or so salary bracket - a bit of late night sittings, but they get about 4 months a year off.

Stephen Fry made a very similar point to you regarding journalists - i.e. how dare these bastards attack MPs when their expenses fiddles are much worse. I'm not particularly enamoured of journalists myself, but we do at least have a choice as to whether we buy their product or not. MPs are funded out of the public purse and hence we are all effectively paying for their largesse. Hence I think we should demand a higher standard of conduct from them than for journalists.

Fry's other point was that this was a relatively minor issue compared with things like whether MPs voted for the Iraq war or not. He's right - but I don't think it's too much to ask to have MPs who aren't crooks, as well as having policies we can believe in.

In short, I'm not ready for the country to lie down in the gutter just yet - I think it's time to make a stand against bullshit and for a democracy we can be proud of. If that sounds naive or sanctimonious I think that's only because we've been exposed to so much crap over the last 30 years that when the truth does hit us in the face, it's unpleasantly alien.